SPA REVIEWS: Washington State's Salish Spa

With the force of nature literally at its back, the spa at Salish Lodge has become a Northwestern landmark.

Courtesy Salish Lodge & Spa

The Salish Lodge & Spa, tucked into the lush forests and rolling terrain of Snoqualmie, Washington, is poised atop one heck of a waterfall. The building—which appears deceptively small due to several levels that dip below the façade toward the falls—is all white trim and French windows. You might recognize it from old episodes of Twin Peaks, ABC-TV’s 1990 cult drama; otherwise, the structure itself is unassuming, unmemorable.

But unless they’re among those Twin Peaks groupies who make regular pilgrimages to the site, adventure-seekers aren’t there for the building. They’re there for the falls, which spritz visitors with a perpetual mist well before they can even see them, lending many a 50-degree-crisp, sunny fall day an eerie feel, and the air a perpetually clean scent. The water plunges 268 feet, with enough power to provide electricity to 16,000 area homes and enough force to deliver a real-life version of that rushing-water sound often duplicated on spa soundtracks. Especially when the weather’s clear, tourists are almost always strolling the nearby walkway, snapping pictures and gaping at the falls. Though the facility is situated just 30 miles east of Seattle, the only civilization in sight is a nearby National Park building, and the only sound, plummeting water.

These days, guests are also there for the spa. Perched on the lodge’s third floor, its small reception area, trimmed with hardwood molding and paved with slate flooring, leads to a comfy relaxation room with a crackling fireplace, a eucalyptus steam room, and a quiet hallway lined with treatment rooms. Seattle Magazine and Conde Nast Traveler have both recognized Salish’s spa for its particularly cozy environment. What’s more, its awe-inspiring setting and natural, often local ingredients, “reflect the calm, contemplative environment of the Pacific Northwest,” as the facility’s website states.

And that’s what distinguishes Salish from its Northwest region competitors: an emphasis on the region’s natural resources, as opposed to the big-city life in neighboring Seattle. “There are many beautiful spas in the area, no doubt,” says Melanie Silver, the spa’s director of rooms. “But with most, you drive there, go into a building, come out awhile later and the experience is over. Here, you have the beautiful drive in, you see the falls and then you come into this warm setting in the lodge. The experience we create gives guests a memory to take home. We have a rainbow every day.” —Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

SPA REVIEWS: Washington State's Salish Spa

Courtesy Salish Lodge & Spa

Nature’s Own

Salish highlights its connection to nature to great effect. Perhaps the most unique—and fun—offering on its spa menu is the Herb and Honey Scrub Bar (50 min./$125), which uses honey from the lodge’s own organic herb farm and apiary. Since May of 2011, the on-site bee farm has been producing honey that’s as locavore-friendly as it gets. In fact, honey’s roots run deep in this nearly 100-year-old lodge’s history—the restaurant has been serving its signature “Honey from the Sky” dish for decades.

It started shortly after the lodge, built in 1916, became a favorite rest stop for those journeying through the nearby mountain pass. Travelers stopped in to fill up on the lodge’s rib-sticking country breakfasts and witness waitresses performing a crowd-pleasing trick: drizzling honey onto customers’ biscuits from above their heads. In recent years, “Honey from the Sky” was renamed “Honey from Heaven,” and the lodge’s management began looking for more local ways to procure the key ingredient. An apiary, just across a wooden bridge on a hill near the lodge, was the logical answer. “We realized we had the space [for the scrub bar],” Salish general manager Rod Lapasin says. “It just made sense.”

Today, the local beekeeper extracts the apiary’s honey as it’s produced, bottles it and hands it over to the lodge. Spa technicians at Salish take these jars of pure honey and hand mix it with other ingredients using a mortar and pestle to create irresistible treatment preparations. Since Salish has stepped in, honey production at the apiary has swelled from 600 pounds in its first year to 2,000 pounds in 2012, according to Lapasin. In fact, Lapasin hopes to soon have enough surplus honey to take the Salish brand into retail gift shops beyond the lodge’s own.

For the moment, though, the bees keep both the lodge restaurant and the spa amply supplied with the sweet stuff. And it’s an environmental boon as well, helping to contribute to the bee population that keeps the Northwest’s natural cycles humming. “It’s good for everyone,” Lapasin says. “The more places that do this kind of thing, the better off we all are.”

The spa’s honey-based scrubs have become among its most popular treatments. “People really love the fact that it comes from right here,” Lapasin says. Management does, too—they delight in noting the different “vintages” as bees change their diets through the season, from sweet flowers to more “intense” pine flavors that aren’t so great for eating. Luckily, the spa is there to soak up the less-tasty sap for body treatments. (And no, Lapasin has never been stung; the beekeeping contractor handles the insects.)

To customize their scrub, guests choose from among chamomile, rosemary, lavender, basil, lemon verbena, sage and mint—all harvested from the herb garden where the bees frolic—which a technician then mixes with honey as well as some salt or sugar for exfoliation. (Each guest gets a sample of her unique scrub to take home with her, plus a recipe in case she wants to reproduce it on her own.) Those feeling less creative can just opt for the delicious Honey and Oatmeal Body Scrub (50 min./$115), or a refreshing Rosemary Mint Scrub (50-80 min./$115-$125), also locally sourced.

Other Salish treatments boasting a distinctively regional flavor include Green Tea and Northwest Seaweed Salt Glow (50 min./$115); Northwest Coffee Exfoliation (50 min./$125); Wildflower Hill Lavender Massage (50 min./$125); and Heated River Rock Massage (50-80 min./$125-$220). And, after having been sidelined due to a construction project last year, this March an old favorite will make a comeback: a couples’ Outdoor Moonlight Massage and Hidden Terrace Dinner (time/price TBA), which takes place right atop the falls.

SPA REVIEWS: Washington State's Salish Spa

Courtesy Salish Lodge & Spa

Inside Spa Doors

Although Salish Lodge chugged along without a spa for 80 years, the 1996 introduction of the luxurious add-on completed the facility’s transformation from practical rest stop to luxurious getaway. The idea was to build on the site’s inherently tranquil surroundings, explains Silver.

“Everything here is peaceful and about the outdoors,” she says. “The idea behind the spa was just: How can you maintain that same feeling for guests, even indoors?” The honey and herbal treatments are among many that play on the lodge’s woodsy setting; heated stones and essential oils also star in many treatment offerings. “We want to have it all tie in together,” Silver says, “versus a spa that’s more like a doctor’s office.”

Guests at Salish will find the feeling within the spa intimate, to be sure. The steam room accommodates only a few people at a time, for example. But this intimacy plays out to the spa-goer’s advantage throughout her visit. The relaxation area offers a comfortable, quiet and warm waiting area, with cushioned, upholstered benches, soft chairs and lots of calming magazines. Impressively realistic faux orchids and real bamboo plants sprout from pots placed upon tables and positioned in room corners. Water, as well as a particularly scrumptious chocolate orange tea (made by PromiTea), are available for sipping; nuts and dried cranberries offer sustenance between treatments.

While awaiting their services, guests fill out an intake form that inquires, “What would make your treatments ideal for you?” This is not a formality; technicians take answers to this question seriously, and handle the task of achieving customer satisfaction with the same gentle and careful approach they take to performing massages and body scrubs. In fact, the entire Salish staff skillfully achieves a balance of “attentive” and “thoughtful.” Scrub recipients find themselves immediately wrapped in fluffy, post-service towels while their shower is prepared to exactly the right pressure and temperature. And, that shower is equipped with an extra container of the scrub for that guest to use for her final rinse. Talk about ending on a high note!

SPA REVIEWS: Washington State's Salish Spa

Courtesy Salish Lodge & Spa

The Salish Lodge & Spa

Average service price: $115
Size: 4,467 square feet
Facilities: Relaxation room, steam room, sauna; 10 treatment rooms; 2 mineral soaking pools
No. of employees: 26
Most popular treatments: River Rock Massage, Custom Body Scrubs
Product lines: Body Coffee, Mama Mio, ME Bath, Spa Blends, Yonka